Courses: First-Year Seminars

Many First-Year Seminars are offered every Fall semester for incoming students.  All of our First-Year Seminar courses are open to every incoming, first-year student,* though students who wish to enroll in RHET 195 should follow guidelines regarding Directed Self-Placement.  Transfer students may enroll in one of our Transfer-Year Seminars.  RHET 195 and RHET 295 courses are typically the only First-Year Seminar classes offered in Spring semesters.

Every incoming student may only enroll in one First-Year Seminar, so that this opportunity is available to all.  Those who inadvertently enroll in multiple FYS courses will be asked to remove one from their schedule and enroll in a different available course.  Questions can be addressed to the Associate Dean for Arts & Humanities, Jeffrey Paris.

(* Eligible students may sometimes be prevented from registering online in a First-Year Seminar due to accumulated course credits from AP or IB or community college courses, along with credits from their first semester at USF if you are trying to enroll in a Spring semester course.  Even if you have in excess of 32 credits applied toward graduation, you may still be able to enroll in a FYS course.  If you think this applies to you, please contact your Webtrack Adviser or your CASA Academic Success Coach <>.)


Fall 2021 Courses

Core A1 - Public Speaking

RHET 195-05 Sports Talk

CRN # 40090
John Ryan
Mon., Wed., & Fri. 11:45 a.m.–12:50 p.m.

Sports Talk uses the world of sports to investigate public discourse. You will use the rhetoric of athletes, coaches, owners, and fans as a springboard into the study of public speech and public communication. The class emphasizes a critical approach as students immerse themselves in the history of sports communication from the early twentieth century up to the present. Students will have the opportunity to explore the historical and social changes that have been inspired by our national fascination with sports. We will visit local venues and examine what these facilities say about our priorities and our values.

Core A2 - Rhetoric and Composition

The RHET 195 First Year Seminars below are only available to students who have placed into RHET 195 through Directed Self Placement (DSP).  If you placed into a different RHET course (e.g. RHET 110, RHET 130, etc.), you should register for that class, and choose a different First-Year Seminar.

RHET 195-02 Intersection: Sidewalks and Public Space

CRN # 40091
Nicole Mauro
Mon., Wed., & Fri. 2:15–3:20 p.m.

Intersection: Sidewalks and Public Space uses the sidewalk to explore the various, often subversive, forms of argument occurring in our urban landscape. We use sidewalks to move from place to place without explicitly acknowledging sidewalks are also the places where we manufacture and maintain, as well as disrupt, civilized social discourse. Given the current political and social climate in which we see peaceful protests clash with more militant, violent ones, it is critical we examine the role public space plays in driving rhetoric. Course topics include: protests, riots, graffiti, street art, vandalism, surveillance, gentrification, and other issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, especially as they inform public and private space. Interdisciplinary works about sidewalks and urban landscapes will inspire students to engage in issues that occur on, and because of, sidewalks, and consider how (and by whom) sidewalks are “supposed” to be used, why sidewalks spark social critique and the expression of personal sentiment, and the powerful, often anonymous, agendas they pursue.

RHET 195-0X Writing About Human Rights

CRN # 42669
Julie Sullivan
Tues. & Thu. 12:45–2:30 p.m.

What does it mean to have rights? Do all humans share equal access to these rights? And, if they do, then why do we see human rights violations go unpunished throughout the world, including in our own country? In this class we will explore the sometimes broad and overwhelming topic of Human Rights through the different forms of media available. Based on timeliness and interest, the course will explore Human Rights issues in areas such as: Criminal Justice, Employment, Education, Gender equity, Healthcare, Hunger, and Immigration. This class requires all involved to be learners, teachers, and individuals willing to voice concerns and create awareness. How you choose to vocalize will be up to you.

RHET 195-02 Rhetoric of Free Expression

CRN # 40093
Ted Matula
Tue. & Thu. 2:40–4:25 p.m.

Free expression is a cornerstone of any democratic society, yet history is littered with attempts to limit, constrain, or outright ban speech that is considered harmful, dangerous, obscene, or inappropriate to one political group or another. In this class, we'll look at free expression from legal, ethical, and political standpoints, studying court cases and philosophical arguments about the limits of free speech. We'll examine arguments about how to balance the need for free expression with the perceived harms (to democracy, to equality, to truth) of certain kinds of "dangerous" speech, from microagressions to false advertising to anti-government rhetoric to hate speech to pornography.   We'll also cover the role of free and open expression in a democratic society, examining the forces that hinder the free and fair exchange of ideas--including corporate interests, anti-science rhetoric, and the inherent biases of the "marketplace" of ideas.

Core C1 - Literature

*Just Added: CMPL 195-01 Literature of the Child

CRN #42802
Shawn Doubiago
Mon., Wed., & Fri. 11:45 a.m.–12:50 p.m.

What is it about childhood that leaves such an indelible mark on our lives? And how has growing up been perceived in other eras and cultures? In this course you are invited to consider these questions and more by examining literary representations of childhood in various genres such as poems, short stories, plays, the Bildungsroman, the memoir, and novels. In our quest to better understand the role childhood plays in our lives, and the ways childhood has been perceived historically, we will also examine  parent-child relationships, family dynamics, society, culture, history, trauma, and theories that affect our early experiences. We will trace these issues in global literature, film, and culture. [Also meets Cultural Diversity Core Requirement]

*Just Added: ENGL 195-01 Science Fiction

CRN #42801
Patrick Schwieterman
Mon., Wed., & Fri. 1:00–2:05 p.m.

Science fiction has long been seen as an “escapist” literature that actively avoids engagement with the most pressing concerns of contemporary life. However, the futuristic or extra-planetary settings of the genre actually offer writers opportunities to explore abiding concerns through “thought experiments” that heighten the tensions implicit in a given topic. For example, Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? explores the nature of humanness through the dilemma of a police detective charged with hunting down and “retiring” androids who are identical to humans in nearly every respect. Besides Dick’s work, the syllabus will feature texts by Octavia Butler, Ray Bradbury, Pat Murphy, Naomi Kritzer, Mercurio D. Rivera, James Patrick Kelly, Ian McDonald, and others. We’ll also make trips off-campus for movies and readings by science fiction authors.

FREN 195-01 A Season in the Congo

CRN # 40724
Karen Bouwer
Tues., Thurs., & Sat. 1:00–2:05 p.m.

What can we learn about ourselves and the world by spending a season in the Congo, a country whose history has been fraught with violence and has brought together people from Africa, Europe and the Americas from the outset? Some of the questions we will be asking are what to do with statues in Congo and the former colonial power Belgium, how to foreground women neglected in the history of colonialism, and how marginalized youth navigate life in the sprawling megalopolis of Kinshasa, affirming that their Black Lives Matter. We will bring literary texts (including a steampunk novel by an African American author) into dialogue with other arts including photography, film, painting and music and will enjoy enriching conversations with invited speakers and virtual and in-person explorations of museums. Students will also have the opportunity to do research on novels from Congo’s “French-speaking” neighbors (Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi) focusing on issues ranging from ethnic identity and coming of age to child soldiers and genocide. [Also meets Cultural Diversity or “CD” Core Requirement]

Core D1 - Philosophy

PHIL 195-01 Minds & Machines

CRN # 41019
Rebecca Mason
Mon., Wed., & Fri. 9:15–10:20 a.m.

You spend your entire life inside your own head. There is nothing that you know more intimately than the contents of your own mind: your beliefs, your memories, your desires, your fears, your pains and pleasures. Despite the fact that you are directly acquainted with your thoughts and experiences, the human mind is in many ways more mysterious than even the far reaches of the universe. In this course, we will investigate the nature of the mind, and the relationship between the mind, the brain, and the body. We will also critically examine some of the ethical and social implications of artificial intelligence.

PHIL 195-04 What is Wisdom?

CRN # 41034
Thomas Cavanaugh
Tue. & Thu. 8:00-9:45 a.m.

Literally, philosophy means the love of wisdom. So, philosophy is about our desire for knowledge, like wisdom. What is wisdom? Who is wise? Does wisdom make us happy? Is ignorance bliss? Why pursue wisdom? Wanting wisdom, yet not sure of what it is, we will ask these and other questions: does suffering lead to wisdom? does wisdom comfort the wise person? does the wise person comfort others? are science and technology wisdom? do they require wisdom to be used well? how does your USF education fit into a search for wisdom? is wisdom worth pursuing? We will ask these questions relying on Socrates, Confucius, Descartes, and the French existentialist Simone Weil; by reading the Tao Te Ching and novels such as Brave New World; by watching movies like The Matrix and Gattaca. We will also visit the San Francisco Asian Art Museum to see fascinating ancient objects related to Confucianism.

Core D2 - Theology & Religious Studies

THRS 195-01 Transcendence in Film & Fiction

CRN # 41165
Mark Miller
Mon., Wed., & Fri. 2:15–3:20 p.m.

Why do we live?  What is real?  How do we know?  Human living is in many ways problematic.  Are there ultimately any answers?  In this course, we shall examine human life from its darkest depths to its most brilliant heights – from sin, nihilism, and violence to virtue, love, and reconciliation.  A community’s narratives, told in various forms, are considered a privileged way of sharing and reflecting on such fundamental questions, in part because they affect the whole person.  We shall examine the heights and depths of human life as narrated in novels and movies that stimulate our senses and our imaginations, challenge our meanings and values, and guide our actions and our lives.  Works we will consider include Dostoyevski’s Brothers Karamazov, Sartre’s Nausea, and Spike Lee’s Malcolm X.

THRS 195-02 Voice, Memory and Landscape: Spiritual Autobiographies of Place

CRN # 41166
Vijaya Nagarajan
Sat. 12:30–4:10 p.m.

This course uses literature and the environment to examine contemporary religious, moral, and ethical landscapes.  We will explore how a landscape becomes embodied through voice and memory in nonfiction, fiction, and film, primarily through the critical exploration of spiritual autobiographies from diverse religious and literary communities, including hybrid religious locations (Catholic, Catholic-Jewish, Christian-Hindu, African-American Baptist, Mormon, Hindu, Buddhist-Confucian-Taoist, Islamic, among others). By looking at various classical historical and contemporary autobiographies, we will begin writing our own spiritual autobiographies of place, using techniques of voice, narrative, and memory. From these gifted writing masters, we will learn how to transform our own stories and set them into intellectual, spiritual, historical, and environmental contexts.

THRS 195-03 Film & Fiction: Catholic Realism

CRN # 41167
Cathal Doherty, S.J.
M 11:45 a.m.–3:25 p.m.

Why do we live?  What is real?  How do we know?  Human living is in many ways problematic.  Are there ultimately any answers?  In this course, we shall examine human life from its darkest depths to its most brilliant heights – from sin, nihilism, and violence to virtue, love, and reconciliation.  A community’s narratives, told in various forms, are considered a privileged way of sharing and reflecting on such fundamental questions, in part because they affect the whole person.  We shall examine the heights and depths of human life as narrated in novels and movies that stimulate our senses and our imaginations, challenge our meanings and values, and guide our actions and our lives.

Core D3 - Ethics

PHIL 195-02 Moral Responsibility

CRN # 41020
Nick Leonard
Mon., Wed., & Fri. 2:15–3:20 p.m.

What makes an action morally right or morally wrong? Why do we hold one another morally accountable? What are we responsible for: our beliefs, or our actions and their consequences? How far does responsibility extend? Does it extend to non-human animals, or to corporations, or to the unborn? In this seminar, we consider different philosophical approaches to these questions, and we will also look at works by experts in related disciplines such as legal theory and cognitive psychology.

PHIL 195-03 Ethics of Integrity and Autonomy

CRN # 41021
Ron Sundstrom
Tues. & Thu. 4:35–6:20 p.m.

This class takes as its focal point the core ethical ideas of integrity and autonomy. A person who possesses integrity is thought to be principled, consistent, and somehow whole. While to exhibit autonomy means to be self-directed and under one’s own control. Both ideas are related to each other and are valued, although each has potential downsides.This course traces those ideas through ethical moral theories, from Classic Greek and Chinese accounts to modern ones that prioritize obedience to rational principles, maximizing desired outcomes, or caring for others. And it explores how those ideas relate to serious moral challenges to us as individuals and to our societies, such as authoritarianism, global climate change, and racism, but also how they relate to our personal and political hopes.

THRS 195-04 Social Justice, Activism, and Jews

CRN # 41021
Aaron Hahn Tapper
Tues. & Thu. 2:40–4:25 p.m.

“Social justice” recognizes disparities in societal opportunities, resources, and long-term outcomes among dominant and marginalized groups, communities with particular social identities. This course looks at social justice issues related to socio-economic class, ethnicity, race, gender, sex, and sexuality as they manifest in the United States today using the lens of Jewish identities. After a brief introduction to central Jewish texts, we explore each topic generally, responses from Jewish communities particularly, and meet with 8-10 Jewish social justice activists, organizers, and religious leaders from the San Francisco Bay Area (and sometimes beyond) who dedicate themselves to the particular issue at hand. Through this process we create a context to analyze multiple ways to tangibly address twenty-first-century social justice issues, empowering students to become re/committed to transforming the world into its potential. Ultimately, this course aims to leave students with more questions than answers.

Core E - Social Sciences

CDS 195-01 Youth and the City

CRN # 40325
Nicole Gonzales Howell
Mon., Wed., & Fri. 2:15–3:20 p.m.

Youth are everywhere, yet at the same time they are seemingly nowhere. Considered by many to be a temporary, transitional stage between childhood and adulthood, those label as “the youth” are often read as apathetic, with a self-centric way of carrying on with life. However, generation after generation, youth represent to many the key, and strongest hope for a more advanced, inclusive and diversified future. This course focuses on youth movements in the United States, with the mission of seeking and securing social justice for those positioned as marginalized groups. We will examine the adaptive capabilities and strengths of selected youth led movements, as well as their weaknesses and shortcomings. This course will provide a historical understanding of youth led/participation in movements in multiple generations, along with the space to capture/generate questions, concerns and develop class projects that will help the participants in this course tackle the difficult question, “What is my generation’s mission(s)?”

COMS 195-01 Landscapes of Communication: Terrestrial and Digital

CRN # 40385
Marco Jacquemet
Mon., Wed., & Fri. 10:30–11:35 a.m.

Our experience of communication is shaped both by physical territory (buildings, streets, neighborhoods, transportation routes, cable and phones lines) and the virtual, digital world (computer networks, cellular phones, remote surveillance, zoom, social media). In this seminar, we will develop new ways of understanding the communicative field by exploring the use of urban space by various social groups (such as youth, migrants, and police), the interaction between sounds and the city, the networked nature of social interactions, and the central importance of mobile and cyber communication. We will work together to produce communicative maps of our city focusing on such phenomena as the soundscapes of a particular neighborhood, the security apparatus on campus, and city-specific digital social networks. This small seminar will include in-class discussion of readings and writing assignments based on fieldtrips within San Francisco.

ENVA 195-01 Golden Gate Park

CRN # 40542
David Silver
Tue. & Thu. 9:55–11:40 a.m.

This class considers Golden Gate Park as a lens and site to explore the environmental history of what we now call San Francisco. We begin by learning about different groups' relationships to Bay Area nature and natural resources, including native Ohlone people, Spanish missionaries, Mexican ranchers, and gold-hungry 49ers. Next, with research visits to Gleeson Library's Donohue Rare Book Room, San Francisco Public Library, and UC Berkeley's Bancroft Library, we trace the development of Golden Gate Park and investigate key eras like the 1894 Midwinter Fair and WPA projects built in the 1930s. Having considered the past, we turn our attention to the present and future and examine contemporary uses of the park and develop ideas and initiatives that could make it more inclusive, diverse, and sustainable. Be ready for field trips. With the park literally two blocks from USF, we will explore as much of it as possible, from the panhandle to Ocean Beach, and take deep dives into the Japanese Tea Garden, the de Young Museum and Cafe, and the National AIDS Memorial Grove. If we're lucky, we may even spot a coyote or two.

INTD 195-01 Law and Order: San Francisco

CRN # 42352
Ed Lenert
Tues. 8:00-11:00 a.m. & Thu. 8:00–9:55 a.m.

Drawing on the famous TV series​ Law & Order ​as inspiration, this first-year seminar will focus on the criminal and civil justice systems and will feature carefully selected readings plus regular field trips to local state and federal courtrooms to attend arraignments, hearings, trials, and sentencing. A significant goal of the course is to help you discuss, analyze and write about social justice as practiced in our society and as depicted in movies and television. In addition, you will be exposed to a social science methodology and a language for describing the relationships between law and social justice. You will be given the opportunity to make first-hand observations about the criminal and civil justice systems, and speak to participants through informal meetings or guest lectures. Optionally, you may elect to participate in the SF Police Department’s Ride-Along program, where citizens accompany officers as they go about their daily operations.

Core F - Visual and Performing Arts

ART 195-01 Sacred Art in the City

CRN # 40181
Nathan Dennis
Wed. 11:45 a.m. – 3:25 p.m.

This course examines the art and architecture of San Francisco’s diverse religious communities that have settled in the city over the last 150 years, including Christian (Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant), Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, Taoist, Shinto, and indigenous traditions that represent the multicultural heritage of the city’s native and immigrant populations. Students will visit San Francisco museums, galleries, churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and historical centers throughout the semester to study how religious heritage has helped make San Francisco one of the most dynamic and culturally diverse cities in the world. Students will meet once a week for 3 hours and 40 minutes, which will enable the class to leave campus for site visits throughout San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area.

ART 195-02 Art in Multicultural San Francisco

CRN # 40182
Jessica Snow
Fri. 11:45 a.m. – 3:25 p.m.

San Francisco is a global city in which you can find thriving art communities and cultural activities in every neighborhood. This class will provide you with an introduction to the city through the lens of the visual arts, and you will get a taste of the rich diversity and socially-engaged artwork to be found in the Bay Area’s arts venues. We will visit museums and other art sites throughout the semester; these field trips will provide you with first-hand knowledge of the vast array of exhibitions happening currently both in institutions and on the street.  In addition to seeing art firsthand, you’ll be keeping a sketchbook with weekly drawing assignments. Further engagement with the art experiences will happen through readings, discussions, and writing assignments.

DANC 195-01 Dance in San Francisco

CRN # 40973
Megan Nicely
Tue. & Thu. 2:40–4:25 p.m.

San Francisco is home to one of the most vibrant and diverse dance communities in the country. Exploring the range of movement styles, dance artists, companies, and organizations at work in the Bay Area provides us with a unique opportunity to understand the vanguard of contemporary performance and the many historical and cultural threads that underlie these practices. By participating in a range of movement classes both on and off campus, attending performances, learning from guest artists, and engaging in both academic and creative movement activities, students will discover the ways dance both supports and challenges dominant cultural values, narratives, and ideals of its time. No prior dance experience is necessary.

MUS 195-01 Opera: Love, Death, & Intrigue

CRN # 40960
Alexandra Amati
Tue. & Thu. 8:00–9:45 a.m.

Opera: where you can do anything so long as you sing it! This course explores the world of opera and the issues presented in (or hidden under) beautiful singing. We will learn about this often extravagant art form and what it says about the society in and for which it was created. We will deepen our discussion by attending three performances at the San Francisco Opera, one of the top three companies in the country. In class we will discuss the readings and bring the issues up to date through our own experiences, and we will study and view/listen to portions of operas from 1600s Italy to 21st century USA. No knowledge of music necessary, only curiosity, interest in challenging deep-seated assumptions, and openness to new ideas. Readiness to have fun a plus!

THTR 195-01 Performing Identity: Theater and Social Issues

CRN # 40990
Paul Stojsavljevic-Flores
Sat. 11:45 a.m.–3:25 p.m.

Performing Identity will focus on how theater artists represent social and cultural issues that intersect with their individual lives. We will develop guiding concepts to understand the intersection of race and theater, identity and cultural tradition, Hip-Hop and local politics.  We will examine the artistic, social and political forces that have inspired theater artists to develop innovative artistic techniques and new theatrical forms.  We will ask, what role does theater play in presenting identity, and in representing different communities?  What kind of theater teaches people how to impact society?  What theater organizes movements for peace and justice, inspires people to seek the truth about herstory and history?  Our course culminates with individual presentations of research projects or short performances that reflect student interest on a social, political issue or cultural identity in relationship to a theatrical artist or work of art.